Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 4, Part 1

There are encounters that change nothing. Urth turns her aged face to the sun and he beams upon her snows; they scintillate and coruscate until each little point of ice hanging from the swelling sides of the towers seems the Claw of the Conciliator, the most precious of gems. Then everyone except the wisest believes that the snow must melt and give way to a protracted summer beyond summer.

Nothing of the sort occurs. The paradise endures for a watch or two, then shadows blue as watered milk lengthen on the snow, which shifts and dances under the spur of an east wind. Night comes, and all is at it was.

All my encounters with religion are like this. Sometimes I have experiences almost literally as he describes, except it's the "miraculous light" he refers to earlier that seems to be scintillating off every object, even dull and commonplace ones. But then my skeptical side reasserts itself, and like Severian I am left wondering if it was just a trick of my mind.

This chapter is about Severian's dog, Triskele. He has three legs (that's what triskele means), so I think he represents the Trinity. The triskele has lots of other symbolism in case that's not enough for you. In a display of Wolfian humor, it's probably also a reference to the Star Trek episode "The Gamesters of Triskelion," since Triskele is a fighting dog. I think this chapter is an allegory of Wolfe's feelings about the Trinity. I don't think it's about the doctrine of the Trinity because "the" doctrine doesn't exist. Interpretation of the Trinity's meaning is one of the best-developed competitive sports among theologians. Wolfe's irritation with the resulting confusion shows through. Triskele is "pitiful," the encounter with him "changes nothing."

If I had found him a year, two years, before, he would have been a divinity to me. I would have told Drotte and the rest, and he would have been a divinity to us all. Now I knew him for the poor animal he was, and yet I could not let him die because it would have been a breaking of faith with something in myself. I had been a man (if I was truly a man) such a short time; I could not endure to think that I had become a man so different from the boy I had been. I could remember each moment of my past, every vagrant thought and sight, every dream. How could I destroy that past? I held up my hands and tried to look at them - I knew the veins stood out on their backs now. It is when those veins stand out that one is a man.
I think this is a statement of how open-minded children are. It's definitely an ambivalent sentiment. It seems to be saying that children are credulous, in both its good and bad senses. Its a tricky balancing act to be discerning without becoming close-minded. Children accept things on very little to no evidence. But how much evidence is enough? To learn genuinely new things, especially revolutionary things, I think there's an initial period when you have to let go of the "evidence" that you've accumulated. Maybe you were misinformed, maybe you're selectively remembering only opposing evidence, maybe you have too much invested in one way of thinking to really think objectively. Maybe children will believe almost anything you tell them, but some adults won't believe their own eyes. But I don't agree with the sentiment that you should hold on to the beliefs of childhood simply because you don't want to "destroy the past." Nostalgia is not a good enough reason to believe something, I would say. And anyway, destruction and rebirth is good in the physical, mental, and spiritual sense, right?
  • Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
  • Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.
  • As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.

Anyway, the Trinity is a very sticky wicket, and it'll be interesting to see what else Wolfe has to say about it later.

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